Pine River Library embodies the potential that many such small-town facilities aspire to but only a few can attain: It is a community center in every sense of the term, and the Library Journal has recognized its superior status by bestowing the Bayfield center with the Best Small Library in America award for 2014. The prize, and its accompanying $20,000 award funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is well-deserved.
The list of factors that make Pine River Library so worthy of the honor is lengthy and impressive. Far beyond its 111,639 books, the library offers a true community center with reading resources, technology to use on site and borrow, meeting space, youth and adult programming that ranges widely – from story time to movie screenings to Pilates classes – a robust outdoor space, known as a living library, that includes a community garden, geodesic dome greenhouse, playscapes and gathering areas. The library partners with Bayfield School District and the town of Bayfield to develop its programs that complement school schedules – there is story time for elementary students at the library during the district’s weekly late-start mornings, as well as parks and recreation classes held at the library.
Perhaps what is most impressive about the Pine River Library is its evolution. As it has grown from its cramped stacks on Mill Street to its current home of 13,000 square feet, the library has drawn community investment and involvement to help shape the growth and, most importantly, make it happen. The outdoor space – 17,000 square feet of it – came about with the help of donations of materials and equipment from local businesses and artists. The Bayfield community is deeply invested in its library – far beyond the $66.52 levied per person each year to fund the library through its special district. People love the library and spend the time, money and energy it takes to prove it. Since 2011, the library has tracked astounding numbers of visitors: 319,679 in person and 271,896 virtual visits via its website. For a community of 8,700 or so, those figures are inspiring, and telling.
The staff members, board and patrons of Pine River Library have built a facility that reflects the community’s deep commitment to its library and its willingness to invest in the facility’s growing role as a gathering place. The abundant resources – books, technology, space to read, study, garden, play, share and learn, professional and dedicated staff members – make the Pine River Library truly exemplary in a field of excellent cohorts throughout America’s small towns. The library and its community should take great pride in the honor it received by being named Best Small Library in America. It says as much about Bayfield as it does about the library. Congratulations.